Wisdom, aging and insanity (and sex)


Rajneesh Narula

(Another in my occasional essay series)



I have come to the rather wise conclusion that there is no greater mistake in life than to go around collecting knowledge. Not all facts, mind you. But after a certain threshold of information any additional knowledge you acquire will steadily make you less and less happy. Facts, dear friends, seem to me to the mortal enemy of happiness: the less you are encumbered with experience, information, and learning the happier you will be.


This epiphany came to me this morning while walking through a bookshop. I came across Eric Von Daniken’s three-decade old book about how Jews, Peruvians and Hindus all have links with space ships and little green men. This has sold 20 million copies worldwide and is largely devoid of facts,. My 2003 book - a work that relies almost entirely on fact - has barely sold 4000 copies. Can the evidence be any clearer? Eric Von Daniken laughs all the way to the bank, I, on the other hand, search for bargains in charity shops and Ebay.  Too many facts equal no money.


You may counter that Mr Von Daniken may be no happier than me; indeed, his passing association with reality may be a sign of latent schizophrenia. And when you do so I am reminded of Douglas Adam’s Total Perspective Vortex.  The TPV was a device that was able to show the user the whole infinity of creation and themselves in relation to it. Unfortunately, use of the TPV invariably drove people insane because they realised how insignificant they were in relation to the universe. If you are given to fantasy, it is easier to see yourself as the centre of the universe. In other words, fantasy is much better fact. Too many facts means you are likely to go mad (or depressed) because you realise how puny and insignificant you really are, and how you cannot make a difference.


Some of you may counter that surely I must derive some inherent return from having tried to make the world a better place, and that thanks to my work, mankind may be an incredibly (really miniscule actually) small step closer to resolving world hunger. Better to be invited to cocktail parties on a private yacht with Angelina Jolie and Lakshmi Pandit (who has a thing for bald men), thank you very much, even it is all shallow and bad for the planet.


And this brings me to the matter of sex, evidence for which comes from my continued failure to impress the opposite sex. Most men will have noticed that the spouting of facts almost always fails to impress women at parties. Indeed, if age has taught me anything it is that when a woman seems duly impressed by my databank of useless facts, more often than not she has concluded that my other qualities make up for my capacity to bore her to death. So, in other words, too many facts also equal no sex. As age takes its toll and my other qualities seem to be replaced by a general-purpose, middle-aged grumpiness, I begin to see the wisdom of the traditional acquisition of a wig and a Ferrari to make up for them.  Except, of course, that I have no money for either.


I now regret that I did not choose the life of a religious scholar, complete with various forms of self-flagellation, comfortable clothing and a powerful belief that heaven will be teeming with women (or men, if that is your inclination) who will appreciate your ability to quote from holy books.


So, to summarise. Too many facts means no money, no sex and the possibility of insanity, ergo, no happiness.  Of course, senility will eventually take care of the over-supply of facts, although by then money and sex will, unfortunately, also be largely irrelevant.


I am of course not surprised, because in my life I have seen only a few cases where age has made people wiser or happier. For some strange reason, much of mankind lives under the mistaken belief that age somehow confers wisdom. Let me offer my considered and intellectual opinion on this: Phooey (yes, that is an actual word). While youth may be wasted on the young, maturity is just as wasted on the old. Unfortunately, what age confers on most people is a sense of hubris, while taking away that most delightful of sensations – the exhilarating sensation of discovering something new, the naïveté of curiosity, that sense that you have just achieved or done something that matters.  Most people lose some of that belief that one is special, unique, that sense that you just might change the destiny of the planet.  Wisdom is about seeking happiness, and recognising that it is transient.  I remain, as many of you know, a dedicated believer in the power of eternal naïveté.


Wisdom is about humility, not hubris, about knowing what came before, and still taking action.  Wisdom is about discovering that no matter how much you know, there is still so much to discover. Wisdom is about remaining curious, and not being afraid of being wrong.  Wisdom is about taking risks – armed with all that you have learnt – and knowing you may fall on your face, but trying anyway.  Wisdom is dreading that you may be wrong about everything, but hoping you are not. Wisdom should be entering the Total Perspective Vortex, being overwhelmed by your own insignificance, yet hopeful that you can still make a difference, because you are not yet dead or insane.